Celebrating a Century of Black Life, History, and Culture


We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.
-Carter Woodson, 1926

They also serve those who only post and wait….

That’s how I feel when all I can do is encourage and support those who are in a position to do something real – especially about important matters such as celebration of African American History Month. As February nears and the time for planning bears down upon us I am left with no power to act other than to suggest some great resources for those who are in a position to celebrate Black History Month with the gusto it so richly deserves.

To be honest, when I read that both Nike and Adidas are featuring the Black History Month debut of theme-related shoes (replete with inspirational quotes paying homage to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career) I knew I had to do something

With the hope that these ideas may augment ongoing plans and possibly spur some new ones, here are some ideas of ready resources to share the history and stories of African Americans:

  • The 2015 theme for the month is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.” The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) offers an excellent overview of the past century which has seen a transformation in our collective understanding of the role of African Americans in this nation’s history. The ASALH notes that “this transformation is the result of effort, not chance” adding that, though “the spotlight often shines on individuals, this movement is the product of organizations, of institutions and institution-builders who gave direction to effort.”
  • To augment the ASALH narrative the U.S. Census Bureau provides mountains of data reflecting the African American population now numbered at 74.5 million. Census Bureau stats cover everything from college enrollment to jobs to voting patterns, families and children. (U.S. Census Bureau CB15-FF.01)
  • The schedule for public television broadcasting during Black History Month is robust. (http://www.pbs.org/about/news/archive/2015/black-history-month/) The roster includes special new episodes from popular titles along with encore programming streamed online. Some interesting programming includes “Celebrating Black Americans,” a feature of the Antiques Roadshow, wherein participants present for appraisal an 1821 citizenship certificate for a free man of color and an African American beauty book written by entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker, the first American female millionaire.  Also on PBS, on the Genealogy Roadshow, professional genealogists unravel the story of a New Orleans family’s links to the Civil War and connections to the New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. American Masters will premiere “August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand,” which examines the legacy of the playwright in honor of his 70th birthday and the tenth anniversary of his death. On Shakespeare Uncovered PBS will offer an analysis od the personal passion of its celebrated hosts including Morgan Freeman’s discussion of The Taking of the Shrew
  • The National Council of Teachers of English weighs in with the National African American Read-In. It’s not too late to get involved and to be recognized as an official African American Read-In Host. Schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations and interested citizens are welcome to join the Read In. (ncte.org)
  • Closer to home, Governor Dayton has issued the official Black History Month declaration recognizing the opportunity “to honor the many heroes who are unknown and unnamed, and who have contributed to the struggle for freedom and justice for all” and encouraging all Minnesotans “to come together, reflect on our collective past, and reveal its impact on present conditions.” (http://mn.gov/governor/images/Black_History_Month_2015.pdf)
  • The Minnesota History Center offers a number of public programs related to the theme of Black History Month. On Thursday, February 7, there’s a book launch celebration for Blues Vision, a collection of prose and poetry by forty-three Black writers. The following day, February 8, the Karen Charles Threads Dance Project performs in a program that uses expressive choreography and Negro spirituals to examine slavery, abolition and its legacy in the U.S. (http://www.minnesotahistorycenter.org/events-programs/upcoming-events-programs)
  • Though there are African American History Month activities planned in schools, libraries and colleges throughout the state of Minnesota, the list of activities at University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus gives the flavor of the breadth of related resources and events. The kickoff at the U of M TC’s campus on February 3, 6:00 p.m. at Coffman Union, focuses on the theme “Young, Black, Educated, and Gifted.” The campus calendar features a Black History Month activity — drama, politics, art or literature — almost every day of the month. (http://campusclimate.umn.edu)
  • KFAI will celebrate February 17-18 with a full schedule of programming suggested and produced by local organizations, artists and thoughtful citizens. (http://www.kfai.org/bhm)

The list goes on….Suffice to say, this is but a taste of the creative, informative and inspirational programs that promise to engage the entire community in celebration of “a century of Black life, history, and culture.” And this list doesn’t even include the wealth of print resources accessible at independent bookstores and libraries everywhere.

The thing about black history is that the truth is so much more complex than anything you could make up. Henry Louis Gates